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Gerald Nye


In office
November 14, 1925 – January 3, 1945
Preceded by Edwin F. Ladd
Succeeded by John Moses

Born December 19, 1892
Hortonville, Wisconsin
Died July 17, 1971
Brentwood, Maryland
Political party Republican

Gerald Prentice Nye (December 19, 1892–July 17, 1971) was a United States politician, representing North Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1925 to 1945. He was a progressive Republican and anti-war activist.

Contents

Early life

Nye was born in Hortonville, Wisconsin to Irwin Raymond Nye and Phoebe Ella Nye (née Prentice). Gerald, whose name was pronounced with a hard G, was the first of four children and the only one born in Hortonville, where both his Prentice and Nye grandparents resided. In his first year he and his parents moved to Wittenberg, Wisconsin, where his father became owner and editor of a small newspaper. Three more children were born there: Clair Irwin, Donald Oscar, and Marjorie Ella.

Nye recalled scenes from his youth in Wittenberg. At five in 1898 he watched the men of town doing military exercises in the streets of Wittenberg in preparation for the Spanish-American War. On September 6, 1901, the telegraph operator called him, nine years old at the time, out of the street to hurry and carry a message to his father at the newspaper office, "President McKinley has been shot!"

Nye's father was a staunch supporter of Progressive Robert M. La Follette, and Nye personally remembered his father's taking him to hear Senator La Follette speak and then meet the Senator afterwards. Years later, Gerald and Robert LaFollette the younger would serve in the US Senate together. When Gerald was about twelve, visiting his uncle's family in Minneapolis, Gerald was in a crowd when the cry went up, "Pickpocket!". He was alarmed as anyone and then astonished and frightened when he was hauled off to a police station. The police questioned him for some time and finally asked where he lived. They were astonished themselves to learn that Gerald was staying with his uncle, Wallace G. Nye, Mayor of Minneapolis. They treated him very respectfully after that.

Gerald's mother, Ella, had been diagnosed with TB. Family history indicates that she may have been asthmatic. She made trips to the south for recuperation on October 19, 1906 she died. Gerald wrote about that tragic event in his life. He was thirteen; his brothers, ten and eight; and his baby sister, six. He was comforted by the presence of his four grandparent at the funeral. Both of his grandfathers, he noted, had served in the Civil War. Freeman James Nye in the Union Army's Wisconsin 43rd Volunteer Infantry Regiment and George Washington Prentice in the Wisconsin 3rd Cavalry.

Gerald Prentice Nye, 18, graduated from Wittenberg High School in 1911 and moved back to his grandparents' town of Hortonville, WI. There, he became editor of The Hortonville Review. Three years later, he was the editor of the Creston Daily Plain Dealer in Iowa.

On August 16, 1916, he married Anna Margaret Munch in Iowa. The couple moved to Fryburg, North Dakota where Gerald bought the Weekly Pioneer. In 1919, they moved to Cooperstown where Gerald was the editor and publisher of the Sentinel Courier. Anna and Gerald had three children: Marjorie Eleanor Nye (b. May 6, 1917), Robert Gerald Nye (b. Cooperstown, ND on June 16, 1921), and James Prentice Nye (b. Cooperstown, ND on June 8, 1923, served in US Navy, World War II).

At the Cooperstown Sentinal Courier, Gerald's editorials lambasted big government and big business. He took the side of the struggling farmers. His progressive views were popular. These were hard times in North Dakota.

In 1925 he was called into the office of the ND Governor A.G. Sorlie. Senator Edwin F. Ladd had died and Gerald arrived at the office with others interested in hearing news of the governors appointment. Pencil and pad in hand, he took a seat on a ledge by an open window. When the governor announced that he had decided to appoint "Jerry over here" to fill the seat, Gerald nearly tumbled out the window.

The young family moved to Washington in 1925. Gerald's youth, and lack of sophistication were the talk of the town. He had a bowl haircut that was ridiculed. However, he became a very active, popular and outspoken Senator and North Dakotans elected him to three more terms. He served twenty years in the US Senate, losing his fourth election bid in 1944.

Senator Nye, true to his progressive views, was a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. He served on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Committee and the Public Lands Committee. As Chairman of Public Lands, he dealt with the Teapot Dome investigations and the formation of Grand Teton National Park. He was instrumental in passing legislation to protect public access to the sea coasts.

The Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry investigated profiteering in the munitions and banking industry and the possibility that greed was a significant factor in leading us into World War I. The Nye Committee as it was commonly known, drew national and international attention. Nye's appointment to the chairmanship of this committee came from Senator George Norris. According to peace activist, Dorothy Detzer, Norris said, "Nye's young, he has inexhaustible energy and he has courage. Those are all important assets. He may be rash in his judgments at at times, but it's the rashness of enthusiasm." [1 ] Senator Norris proposed Nye as "... the only one out of the 96 whom he deemed to have the the competence, independence and stature for the task." [2]

Defeated in his re-election attempt in 1945, Nye chose to remain in the Washington area. He and Marguerite had purchased 3 acres (12,000 m2) of pasture land in Chevy Chase, part of a farm on a hill above Rock Creek Park. They designed and built a brick, farmstyle home and Gerald, who loved gardening and nature, planted trees and dug gardens on the open acres.

He organized and became president of Records Engineering, Inc., engaging in the creation and management of records by industry and government. In 1960 he was appointed an assistant to the Commissioner of FHA in charge of housing for the elderly. Leaving that in 1963, he accepted an appointment on the professional staff of the US Senate Committee on Aging. 1966 saw a grand retirement party at the US Capitol. Attended by the Senators Kennedy and hosted by a witty, Senator Dirksen who presented Senator Nye with a typewriter and desk lamp and orders to begin his memoirs. Never retiring, he became a consultant to churches and private groups desiring government funds for the building of retirement housing.

It was there that the children grew up and attended high school. Anna and Gerald divorced in March 1940. Every summer, Gerald took the children to Yellowstone where Marjorie and a young Gerald Ford were teenage friends.

Appearing so young and unsophisticated when first he went to Washington, he was elected by North Dakotans to three more terms in the Senate, totaling twenty years of service ending in 1945.

On December 14, 1940, Gerald married Iowa schoolteacher A. Marguerite Johnson, whom he'd met years before when he and his sons, driving in Yellowstone National Park, stopped to help a group of teachers, stranded with a flat tire. Marguerite and Gerald had three children, all born in Washington, D.C.: Gerald Prentice Nye, Jr. b. 1943 and Richard Johnson Nye, 1944, both Vietnam War veterans; and Marguerite Deborah Nye, born 1950(m. John AF Corgan, Washington, DC, 1981).

Nye served as first editor and later owner of several newspapers, purchasing the Fryburg Pioneer in Billings County in May 1916. He was an editorial supporter of the agrarian reform movement.

Newspaper years

Gerald and his brother Clair had grown up helping around their father's newspaper business and learned the trade. Gerald took the editing end and Clair operated the presses.

In May 1916, Gerald bought a weekly paper in Fryburg, ND, The Fryburg Pioneer. On August 16, 1916, he married Anna Margaret Johnson (b. Utah) in Iowa where she lived with her maternal grandparents and had taken their name, Munch. Gerald and Anna lived in Fryburg, ND where Gerald had, in May of that year, purchased a weekly paper The Fryburg Pioneer Billings County

In 1919, they moved to Cooperstown where Gerald was the editor and publisher of the Sentinel Courier. Anna and Gerald had three children: Marjorie Eleanor Nye (b. May 6, 1917), Robert Gerald Nye (b. Cooperstown, ND on June 16, 1921), and James Prentice Nye (b.Cooperstown, ND on June 8, 1923, served in US Navy, World War II). Gerald was a supporter of the agrarian reform movement. His editorials lambasted big government and big business. He took the side of the struggling farmers. His progressive views were popular. These were hard times in North Dakota.

Political years

Nye had unsuccessfully sought election as a progressive Republican to the U.S. House in 1924. When Senator Edwin F. Ladd died on June 22, 1925, Gerald Nye, newspaper editor, and others gathered in the office of ND Governor A.G. Sorlie, all interested in hearing news of the governors appointment. Pencil and pad in hand, he took a seat on a ledge by an open window. When the governor announced that he had decided to appoint "Jerry over here" to fill the seat, Gerald nearly tumbled out the window. He'd been appointed to fill the vacancy and was then elected to fill the Senate seat in 1926. Nye supported the political positions of Robert M. La Follette. Nye supported legislation for agricultural price supports.

The young family moved to Washington in 1925. Gerald's youth, and lack of sophistication were the talk of the town. He had a bowl haircut that was ridiculed. However, he became a very active, popular and outspoken Senator and North Dakotans elected him to three more terms. He served twenty years in the US Senate, losing his fourth election bid in 1945. His eldest three children grew up on Grosvenor Street and attended high school in Washington, DC. Every summer, Gerald would take the children to Yellowstone where Marjorie and a young Gerald Ford were teenage friends. Anna and Gerald would divorce in March 1940.

Senator Nye, true to his progressive views, was a supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. He served on the Foreign Relations Committee, the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Committee and the Public Lands Committee. As Chairman of Public Lands, he dealt with the Teapot Dome investigations and the formation of Grand Teton National Park. He was instrumental in passing legislation to protect public access to the sea coasts.

The Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry investigated profiteering in the munitions and banking industry and the possibility that greed was a significant factor in leading us into World War I. The Nye Committee as it was commonly known, drew national and international attention. Nye's appointment to the chairmanship of this committee came from Senator George Norris. According to peace activist, Dorothy Detzer, Norris said, "Nye's young, he has inexhaustible energy and he has courage. Those are all important assets. He may be rash in his judgments at at times, but it's the rashness of enthusiasm." [1 ] Senator Norris proposed Nye as "...the only one out of the 96 whom he deemed to have the the competence, independence and stature for the task." [3]

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Teapot Dome Scandal

Nye uncovered that Warren G. Harding's interior secretary Albert B. Fall had uncompetitively leased a government oil field to Mammoth Oil Company, in return for contributions to the Republican National Committee. This is now know as the Teapot Dome Scandal and gave Nye the reputation as "Gerald the Giant-Killer."

Nye Committee

In 1934 Senator Nye headed an investigation of the munitions industry. He created headlines by drawing connections between the wartime profits of the banking and munitions industries to America's involvement in World War I. Many Americans felt betrayed: perhaps the war hadn't been an epic battle between the forces of good (democracy) and evil (autocracy). This investigation of these "merchants of death" helped to bolster sentiments for isolationism.1 A leading member of the Nye Committee staff was Alger Hiss.

Antiwar Movement

Nye was instrumental in the development and adoption of the Neutrality Acts passed between 1935 and 1937. To mobilize antiwar sentiments, he helped establish the America First Committee.

Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor on the evening of December 7, 1941, Nye addressed an America First meeting in Pittsburgh, and was quoted as saying, "this was just what Britain had planned for us" and that "we have been maneuvered into this by the President." However, the next day Nye joined the rest of the Senate in voting for a unanimous declaration of war.[4]

Nye was a Freemason and attended Grace Lutheran Church in Washington, DC. He gained further prominence in 1941 when he accused Hollywood of attempting to “drug the reason of the American people,“ and “rouse war fever.“ He was particularly hostile to Warner Brothers.[5]

Post Senate years in Washington

Defeated in his re-election attempt by a Democrat, John Moses, in 1944, Nye chose to remain in the Washington area. He and Marguerite had purchased 3 acres (12,000 m2) of pasture land in Chevy Chase, part of a farm on a hill above Rock Creek Park. They had designed and built a brick, farmstyle home and Gerald, who loved gardening and nature, had planted trees and dug gardens on the open acres. Their sons, Jerry and Dick had been born in 1943 and 44.

Nye organized and became president of Records Engineering, Inc., in DC. The pre-computer age firm created, organized and managed records of industrial and government clients. In 1960 he was appointed to the FHA as Assistant to the Commissioner and in charge of housing for the elderly. In 1963, he accepted an appointment to the professional staff of the US Senate Committee on Aging. 1966 saw his grand retirement party at the US Capitol. It was attended by the Senators Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy and hosted by the witty Senator Everett Dirksen who presented Senator Nye with a typewriter and desk lamp and orders to begin his memoirs. Never really retiring, he became a consultant to churches and private groups desiring government funds for the building of retirement housing.

Death

A life long smoker, Senator Nye had arterial disease and surgeries replacing the arteries in his legs with plastic, state of the art, arteries. Close to the end of his life, a blood clot went to his lung. He was 78 years old, recovering from that experience but still weak, when a doctor mistakenly prescribed a drug containing penicillin to which he was known to be allergic. His body was too weak to recover from that shock. He went into a coma, the family was called and the decision made to turn off life support. He died very soon after that. It was July 17, 1971. Services were held at Grace Lutheran Church in Washington and burial at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, MD. As a US Senator, Nye was allowed the privilege and distinction of burial in Arlington Cemetery, but he believed that those places should be reserved for those who served in the military. He and Marguerite bought a plot on a hillside near chapel in Lincoln Cemetery some years in advance of his death.

Notes

  1. ^ a b */ Wayne S. Cole, Senator Gerald P. Nye and American Foreign Relations, Minneapolis, 1962, p.68
  2. ^ quoting the author: Barbara W. Tuchman, "The March of Folly", Random House, New York, 1984, p.382
  3. ^ quoting the authro: Barbara W. Tuchman, "The March of Folly", Random House, New York, 1984, p.382
  4. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp 619-21
  5. ^ America First: the Anti-War Movement, Charles Lindbergh and the Second World War, 1940 - 1941
United States Senate
Preceded by
Edwin F. Ladd
United States Senator (Class 3) from North Dakota
1925 – 1945
Served alongside: Lynn Frazier, William Langer
Succeeded by
John Moses

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